Investigation 3

What if Western Australia had decided not to join in Federation?

Much of the Western Australian debate about Federation focused on possible disadvantages for the colony. At the Conventions on Federation, the colony’s delegates also focused on what Western Australia would want the other colonies to agree to if it did join. They wanted to make sure that the colony was assured of a good deal before they would consider being part of the federal system.

Western Australia wanted to continue to make money from intercolonial tariffs, or taxes charged on goods imported from the other colonies. Premier John Forrest and the colony’s other delegates also wanted to be sure that a railway line linking Western Australia to the other colonies would be built.

By the end of the 1890s, it was clear that Western Australia would not get all it wanted. Would it really be a good idea to reject Federation? Should it wait and join later? Western Australia needed to consider the possible dangers of not joining in Federation. One risk was internal division—the eastern goldfields might separate and federate as a new colony. And, joining later might mean Western Australia would not have the same rights as an ‘original State’.

Your Task

Discover the reasons why it was advantageous for Western Australia to join Federation as an ‘original State’.


  1. In pairs, read the selections from the Australian Constitution. Put an ‘♦’ next to the sections that describe what colonies will not be able to do when they are part of a united Australia. Put a ‘✔’ next to the sections that describe the advantages of being part of Federation.
  2. Re-read the sections that apply to ‘original States’, which are colonies that joined Federation from the beginning. What disadvantages would a colony face if it did not join together with the rest of the Australian colonies in 1901?
  3. Thinking about the eastern goldfields petition (Resource sheet 2), speculate on what could have happened had Western Australia not joined in Federation. You may modify and decorate a political map of Australia or explain the situation in a paragraph.
  4. Do one of the following activities.
    • Write a letter to John Forrest, Premier of Western Australia, listing the reasons why Western Australia should join the other colonies in federating.
    • Write a jingle for a song, a poem or a rap, to persuade the people of the colony of Western Australia of the advantages of joining in Federation as an ‘original State’.
    • Create a cartoon or poster urging the people of the colony of Western Australia to join in Federation.